Despite the promises of Reconstruction, there were setbacks and constant resistance from down South. For example, all the Reconstruction Amendment had loopholes:
14th: Black Codes and, after 1877, Jim Crow laws that only applied to African Americans and thus segregated them despite allegedly being equal. One of the worst Black Codes were the Vagrancy Laws that required Freedmen to work for White people, usually former owners. (Jim Crow laws were given formal approval by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case)
15th: African Americans are lynched and shot to prevent them from voting or holding political power (Colfax Massacre as one example; KKK as well); after 1877 Blacks are disenfranchised through Poll Taxes, Literacy Tests, & Grandfather Clauses.
The Supreme Court undermined the 14th Amendment in the Slaughterhouse Cases and the Cruikshank case which effectively made the 14th Amendment impossible to enforce: the first said that the 14th Amendments rights only applied to federal citizenship, not state citizenship; the second said the bill of rights only restricted the federal government, not individuals or states.
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Scalawags and Carpetbaggers
Democratic opponents gave nicknames to their hatred Republican rivals. They called Southern Republicans “scalawags” and Northern newcomers “carpetbaggers”.
Some Northerners went south as investors interested in setting up new businesses, while others were ministers and teachers with humanitarian goals. Some went simply to plunder and take advantage.
Sharecropping became a popular new form of coerced labor in the South. Blacks worked in families on a piece of land for a fixed share of the crop, usually 1/2. This was good for the landowners, because it didn’t require much expenditure in advance of the harvest.
The tenant also shared the risk of crop failure or a fall in cotton prices. Croppers had to live on credit until their cotton was sold, and plantation owners used the chance to provision them at high prices.
Creditors were entitled to deduct what was owed to them out of the tenants share of the crop, and this left most Croppers with no net profit at the end of the year….often with a debt that had to be worked off. Sharecropping was often considered slavery by another name.
Grant’s Presidency and Scandal
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
The postwar years were notorious for the corrupt schemes devised by business bosses and political bosses to enrich themselves at the public’s expense.
Wall Street financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk obtained the help of President Grant’s brother-in-law in a scheme to corner the gold market.
In the Credit Mobilier affair, insiders gave stock to influential members of Congress to avoid investigation of the profits they were making, as high a 348% from government subsidies for building the transcontinental railroad.
In the case of the Whiskey Ring, federal revenue agents conspired with the liquor industry to defraud the government of millions in taxes.
Grant’s secretary of war, was impeached by the House after an investigation revealed he had taken bribes for the sale of Indian trading posts.
Even after Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency (1869-1877) and the elimination of the KKK by 1871 because of the Enforcement Acts, Reconstruction would eventually fail. This was because the South resisted it and the North got sick of having to enforce it and to protect Black rights for so long in the face of resistance.
Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the Compromise of 1877. This was a deal in which the Northern Republicans got Rutherford B. Hayes elected as president. In exchange, the Southern Democrats got an end to the military occupation of the South (called the Bayonet Rule) since they promised to respect Black rights. That... did not go so well.
Despite the enormous potential of achieving basic racial equality, the Amendments in the Constitution would be mostly useless for African Americans for almost 100 years…
The New South
Proponents of the New South envisioned a post-Reconstruction southern economy modeled on the North’s embrace of the Industrial Revolution. An Atlanta, Georgia newspaper coined the phrase the "New South” in 1874. The writer urged the South to abandon its longstanding agrarian economy for a modern economy grounded in factories, mines, and mills.
Rise of Jim Crow
Jim Crow laws were imposed by southern states from 1876 through the first decade of the 20th century. The name Jim Crow came from an antebellum minstrel show figure first popularized by Thomas “Daddy” Rice who blackened his face and sang a song called “Jump Jim Crow”
These laws were used to discriminate against black people and prevent them from doing things like having equal access to public infrastructure and voting.
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